books, geekery

…Be A Bookdragon

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There’s this advertisement on my Facebook feed, for a line of merchandise bearing the tagline, “In a world of bookworms, be a bookdragon.”

Apparently Facebook has spied on me enough to know that I like dragons, and that I would, in fact, refer to myself as a bookdragon. Putting aside the momentary concerns I have about privacy, I have to admit: I want something from this line of merch.

I like the statement. I feel it’s accurate.

And I do believe there are important distinction between the terms.

So, just what are they?

HUMOROUS DISCUSSION TIME!

Bookworms love to read. Bookdragons find reading a way of lifeWe don’t just read books we find interesting; we keep detailed, organized lists of what books we should read, and why. We track announced new releases from our favorite authors (yes, to the point of camping out in bookstore entrances at ungodly hours). We don’t just read the books; we then write glowing reviews and post them on multiple social media platforms and share them with hundreds of human beings who don’t even know our real names, but will drop everything to read said post.

We also need to have all the merch based on these precious tomes, and follow the authors on Twitter, and once every spring build a garden statue out of clay that is meant to resemble our newest precious character.

Bookworms learn what foreshadowing and plot holes are. Bookdragons can nail down the flaws in even the most perfect novels, and headcanon our own ways of correcting them. We don’t simply finish a read we’d give 3.5 stars and say, “This was what I liked, and this is what I wasn’t so fond of.” We say, “It absolutely had me up until page 106, the second paragraph down, when the narrator revealed her father actually died in an accident, not from drinking too much lemonade, and that she felt responsible for causing the accident. The reason I couldn’t get on board with this point of view was because her mother had concretely referenced an accident and how it wasn’t her fault back on page 59. She really needs to listen to her mother, and the fact the rest of the story didn’t ever resolve their conflict feels like the writer and editor dropped the ball. Otherwise there would’ve been this amazing scene between the two characters by about page 257, where they aired all their grievances, yelled at each other, and then broke down in tears and hugged it out, and the ending wouldn’t have felt so hollow and bereft of forgiveness and redemption.”

Ahem. What? You know it’s true.

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Bookworms won’t always share their unpopular opinions. Bookdragons don’t hesitate. Let’s be totally honest, though — this is where we get in trouble. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having an opinion (especially since all art is subjective), and there’s also nothing at all wrong with not liking a book 88% of your friends did. However, being nasty about it definitely has its downsides. It is possible to write a very humorous negative review, and people laugh and laugh, and agree with what you’ve said, and you haven’t actually included phrases like, “This author should burn in hell for throwing in a love triangle.”

Seriously. Knock off the more inhumane reactions to books or authors who disappoint or even anger you. Sorry-not-sorry, folks.

Okay, that’s my one lecture in this post.

Bookworms are often also writers, but they may feel more content sticking to non-published formats. Bookdragons are often also indie or trad authors, or reviewers/bloggers that get paid. Now, before anybody gets up on their high horse, I’m going to say this point blank: If you write, YOU ARE A WRITER. Whether you’re a blogger, on Wattpad, you jot down poems in a journal, or can Google yourself and novel titles pop up, it is all you’re a writer. The difference comes in the amount of determination and perseverance. And many bloggers or journalers admit, they aren’t sure about diving into official publishing. And that doesn’t disqualify them, either. Because publishing does take a thick skin (or scaly hide), and it isn’t for everyone who loves to see the written word appear from their own pen or keyboard.

Bookdragons may be more successful in this endeavor because we breathe fire and tend to eat our problems.

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Bookworms collect books they adore. Bookdragons hoard hardcover and paperbacks and special editions of the same exact title, gather all the merch, and scour crafts store sales for the most realistic-looking fake flowers for our Instagram photos. Personally, I don’t do Instagram, but so many of us do, and it is a labor of love. We do share pictures that look great on a limited budget, and we truly flail in delight whenever someone appreciates our hard work. We just can’t help wanting to show others how incredible our carefully cultivated bookshelves look.

Bookworms check news from their favorite authors. Bookdragons have their favorite authors’ newsletter emails placed at number one in Contacts; higher than their parents, siblings, or children. Okay, I’m exaggerating (slightly). But we do get very attached to our beloved wordsmith humans, and will frequently admit to it. Neil Gaiman is just a lovely person who I would happily sit down with for a cup of tea, given half the chance. When I learned of Terry Pratchett’s passing, I sobbed for hours on end. Maggie Stiefvater was recently joking on Twitter about an MRI she had, and I was like, “DON’T YOU DARE!”

Authors who can put into words all the feelings and experiences we thought no one else understood are highly prized treasures, and should be appreciated by the entire human race as the gift from God they are.

*Clears throat and wipes eyes*

All right, that’s my list. Any you’d add, moths?

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books, self-publishing

Phoenix Fiction Writers Anniversary Sale!

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The sign above says it all. There’s this indie author collective (including some pretty awesome people who — full disclosure — are really nice to me) that writes very interesting and unique tales across the genre of speculative fiction, called the Phoenix Fiction Writers, and they are having a big SALE in the very near future. If you go to the website, there will be details on what’s available at sizeable discounts from 11/29 to 12/2. But here’s a preview:

2019 Sales Graphic

Paperback — and hardcover, depending on the author — as well as ebook editions are going to be darn cheap. There is merch, for those of us who love our bookish swag. Again, more details on the website. Go look already!

Who are the Phoenix Fiction Writers? They are (in no particular order) E.B. Dawson, Hannah Heath, Kyle Robert Shultz, Janelle Garrett, C. Scott Frank, Beth Wangler, J.E. Purrazzi,  K.L.+ Pierce, and Nate Philbrick. Their works cover a wide range of fantasy and science fiction, they write separately and occasionally together; they have all of those books available via links on their homepage. Remember, from Black Friday to Cyber Monday, everything on their site will be a steal!

Erm, okay, not a literal steal, you will still have to pay. Just, not, you know, a ton.

 

books, community

Literary Snobbery Bites

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Just what is literary snobbery, and why does it make us say ouch, and want to avoid it? Well, most of us who are avid readers, or writers and readers, are aware that there are some people in the world who simply feel one type of literature is “better” than all the rest. This perspective ranges from demeaning certain genres, styles, and/or authors, to being downright nasty on social media or in real life socializing, to concretely boycotting and encouraging boycott of particular titles, or — again — authors or genres.

Just like any other kind of snob, literary snobs are just eewww. And like other kind of snobs, literary ones feel they are absolutely right, no matter what, why can’t you see that, and, no, you aren’t going to change their perfect and complete minds.

A-hem. Okay, let’s temper this salt just a little.

The biggest reason literary snobs get under the skin of those who just plain like to read what we like to read is their superiority attitude. Bookworms — and especially bookdragons — are always going on about how much their favorite titles mean to them, and how everybody they know should read immediately, and love them just as intensely. However, what makes us not-a-snob is the fact that, if someone doesn’t like our favorite book, we may be disappointed or even miffed, but we will not proceed to formulate plans to hunt down these individuals in the night and…

Oh, right, less salt.

Unfortunately, we have probably all had an experience (more than one?) where we either got into a heated argument or a very uncomfortable debate with somebody based on literary snobbery. I know it’s happened to me. But what’s really the best way to deal with it? Other than passionately defending your dear papered loves…particularly when the party opposite refuses to be swayed, even a tiny bit?

And really, what’s our end goal? To get them to admit our favorite book is the best ever? Or just to get off their stupid soapbox and admit something that simply isn’t to their taste still has value?

For most of us, it’s the latter.

So, how do we do this constructively? While retaining our own sanity?

Maybe there are reasons literary snobs are this way. Let’s start with that.

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Do they genuinely realize how hard it is to be a writer? A lot of enthusiastic readers probably don’t. This may be surprising, but since becoming a self-published author, I’ve come across a monumental amount of misconceptions or misinformation among readers about writers. One is this notion that if you’re talented and trained, or at least educated via academia or the school of life, about doing a thing — such as writing a book — that it should come easily. Very intelligent people can have no concept of how the creative brain operates.

There’s also the fact that society tends to decide what’s “mainstream” and what’s “fringe.” Science fiction and fantasy, graphic novels, horror, speculative religious or spiritual fiction, tends to be seen in our society as “fringe.” The reason romances and mysteries and biographies of politicians and celebrities are in bookstores and libraries everywhere is because they’re more conforming, more generalized, easier to get ahold of (for sellers or distributors), and more people consider them acceptable to read — and be seen reading.

Changing people’s minds about what’s “acceptable” can be a hard road. There are lots of people I know passingly in my area that find fantasy and juvenile fiction to be “beneath” authors, and readers. Because this is what write, I am not always appreciated wherever I go as a card-carrying author. This gets tedious, but also, I get used to it.

Not that I like it. So, again, what’s the solution?

Maybe there isn’t one when it comes to taste?

Or maybe we can at least try to encourage broadening horizons? What if someone reads a book in a genre or style they swore they’d never try…and they enjoyed it? This does happen, and not as infrequently as we might believe. It’s a step forward…

How do you make sure you don’t accidentally turn into a literary snob yourself? My advice is to always have a variety of authors, in at least two different genres, that are your go-tos for new titles/releases, and don’t be afraid to try suggestions. Generally I read YA and MG fantasy, but there are a handful of adult fantasy or adult romance novelists I return to now and again. Sometimes I shake it up with a biography or memoir or a title I haven’t read since about 1998. It’s all good.

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If someone will never agree with your recommendations, learn to let it go. Live and let live. Peace (and your sanity) is more important.

What to do if you’re surrounded by literary snobs?

Well…is there any way to change your circumstances? I mean, if your co-workers fit this category, but you’re more open-minded, but can’t just quit your job, there are always online communities where you can find those sharing your interests and views.

If it’s something you don’t have to be involved in — like me and a certain book club I mentioned recently — then just remove yourself from it, and be glad of the escape.

What if pushing forward with your own intention to broaden is the way it has to be — because the literary snobs are your family, students, or you’re — for example — the head of the book club?

I know someone who refuses to give up. She’s making a bunch of retired grandmothers (who are very picky on their reading selections) get through Stephen King’s Bag of Bones in October.

And if you are well-read, please be kind to those who may not be. You could unintentionally turn somebody off from reading a certain genre or author, depending on your reaction to their lack of knowledge.

And there are many reasons why people either don’t have the time or inclination towards reading something you feel they should’ve finished years ago.

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Since we all love reading, we want to encourage others to pursue it. If we make it feel like reading for pleasure is something that’s unreachable or unrelatable, our passion won’t get much past us.

Let’s grow the flock.

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books, reading

Does Writing Carry A Moral Obligation?

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Okay, this will be my last truly whingey post for a while, I swear (since I’ve been rather whingey lately, I’m aware). But I just have to get this off my chest.

The book that was the last straw for me regarding a certain group meeting (see my last post) is Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. When I started reading it, I found it very thought-provoking; it presents prejudice in a variety of forms — class, status, race, lifestyle. And the author wrote in a very objective narrative style, showing both the points of view of each of the main characters, as well as why other characters liked or didn’t like them. So the reader was, for the most part, it appeared, left to make up their own mind.

But I drew the line after the halfway mark (and, as usual, I thought this title was about 100 pages too long). Since the early chapters, one of the characters in particular, you get the idea that she’s hiding something, and probably not something at the level of she’s divorced or doesn’t file her income taxes. And when the big reveal comes, I was horrified.

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MASSIVE SPOILER: The secret involves agreeing to be a surrogate for a wealthy, infertile couple, and then changing her mind about giving them the baby. She lies about having a miscarriage, has the baby and keeps the child herself, and takes on a nomadic existence, moving across the country every year or so, presumably to keep the couple from tracking her down in case they ever figured out she was lying. (There actually is a plot point that could lead to her being discovered, which I won’t get into.) But suffice it to say, I lost any possibility of EVER sympathizing with this character once I learned this.

And then it made my blood boil that other people who read the same book couldn’t see this character as a kidnapper and criminal.

In what version of reality would a judge NOT make this determination, and order the birth mother to hand the child over to the couple that she signed a legal contract with?! For me, it is SO cut and dry as to not even be worth debating. This woman does not deserve to keep this child, especially since she originally only agreed to be a surrogate for the money, and the couple was getting kind of desperate to have a baby, which clearly shows they had more invested (financially and emotionally) in the situation. Don’t their feelings matter at all in this portrayal??

Now, from a storytelling perspective, it is interesting to present this character’s motivation. Whether you agree with her decision or not is one thing. But here’s where I couldn’t stay on board with that depiction, as a writer: When the character’s secret was out, and nothing happened. The child learned the truth, learned that she’d been lied to her entire life, and there was no consequence. No one called a lawyer, police, the FBI, or tried to find the couple who was supposed to be raising that child. THIS IS NOT HOW REAL LIFE WORKS. It’s like the author had absolutely no concept of the laws around surrogacy and adoption when she wrote the book; apparently none of the editors looked into it, either.

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This brings me to my biggest question: Do writers have a moral obligation to realistically portray matters of law, regardless of what they or the readers would like the outcome to be?

It concerns me that what one person wants, no matter their responsibilities to others, seems to be the driving force behind many decisions made by  modern editors.

While I would never describe infertility, surrogacy, and adoption as straightforward issues (who would, really?), I know for a fact that other fictional conversations on this very matter explain the legal part much more correctly. (For crying out loud, I bet a Lifetime channel movie would handle that aspect better than Little Fires Everywhere does.)

The lack of competence continues through the second part of the novel, where the focus shifts to a subplot about a Chinese immigrant who left her baby at a fire station, then later came to claim the infant from a Caucasian foster family. I wasn’t pleased with how the author handled this, either, and felt that she was definitely encouraging readers to feel a certain way about the whole situation. And although every writer is going to have their own ideological or cultural views on various social conundrums, should they set it aside in favor of letting the reader decide for him or herself?

I’m not sure there are any easy answers. Part of what we value about the freedom of speech is the legal and civil ability to present our own opinions, controversial or not, in our fiction. I value that pretty highly myself. Some of the views I hold are deemed controversial by others. But what does it say about our society when a civilization successfully run by morals for hundreds of years easily turns that away for “because I want to”?

Not that fiction is the governing body of our country. But if we’re using fiction as a platform to discuss important aspects of real life — such as politics and law — then shouldn’t we be more careful in our bookish depictions?

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books, pop culture

Subscription Boxes Deliver Magic

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Important note before I start: None of these images belong to me, and I am in no way trying to claim credit for any official logos or designs from Owl Crate itself.

Everybody who’s any kind of bookworm has heard about book-themed subscription boxes, such as Owl Crate, Illumicrate, Lit Joy, and Fairy Loot. Many of us hold active memberships with one or more of these companies. While the monthly cost can be a bit intimidating for those of us on lower range incomes, when/if you can afford it, ordering one of these boxes is absolutely worth it.

My personal favorite is Owl Crate. Companies that are based overseas are, unfortunately, out of my price range. And not every box is created equal — some of the book selections and/or additional items just won’t float your boat. Doing research before placing an order is a good idea — looking up other bloggers’ past unboxings will give you a better idea what sort of items to expect from each company, and whether those fit your hopes for your particular subscription adventure.

Because, yes, every time you receive a subscription box, it is an adventure. Since you never know just what is in each shipment until it arrives, the anticipation is thrilling. Even if you believe getting excited over what might be in one small Owl Crate is trivial, in the end, you’ll find yourself racing to the post office on the morning of delivery.

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And it truly is magic to see just how much is packed into that little crate! Once you begin unpacking, you’ll find yourself reminded of that bag Hermione had in The Deathly Hallows, that was the size of a regular purse, but contained books and multiple changes of clothes and even a portable tent. Within the subscription box, layered on top of each other with proper skills, are well-packed tote bags, bookmarks, coasters, hats or socks, keychains, and sometimes really special items, like an umbrella or bookends. And, of course, there’s always a new-release book, signed by the author, and often with a special note composed by said author.

Below is the February 2019 Owl Crate as an example:

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We also own items from an experimental order of Illumicrate, which included a Strange the Dreamer-inspired umbrella that Muffin loves, and a Darker Shades of Magic-themed bag that I carry my business cards in. That’s the other incredible part of this experience — you had no idea you even needed certain objects until they arrive in your subscription box, and after you have them, you will find uses for them.

For example, this used to be me: “A glass water bottle? How impractical is that!” “Who would wear a sleep mask? Won’t that be too uncomfortable on your ears?” Then both of these were in the May Owl Crate, and, well…yes, I now am using a glass water bottle (sporting a Stardust quote!), and a sleep mask.

Here’s the best thing about getting book-ish swag that’s still so functional: It is an autist’s dream come true. Being a visual person, I’m naturally attracted to shiny things; but the intensely pragmatic side of my nature means that I can only stand so much that’s purely decorative and doesn’t serve some other sort of purpose. The amount of useful things packed into subscription boxes is just awesome. 

And we can’t forget about the books themselves! While each selection might be hit or miss for your personal taste, there is always something deeply satisfying about unwrapping a signed edition of a brand new release. And who knows, it may become your next favorite! And a true bookdragon knows that is worth taking the risk.

So while this post may sound a lot like an endorsement for Owl Crate, I swear it’s not; I’m just relating my experiences with this first-time adventure of having a subscription box, and so far, it’s been good. It’s why I encourage everyone who hasn’t given this idea a shot yet to do so when you have the chance!

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books

Pros and Cons of Audiobooks

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So, this is a discussion I’ve sent a lot of bloggers engaging in lately. Audiobooks have become a big deal to avid readers.

I remember, not all that long ago, the claim was that listening to someone else read the text wasn’t “real” reading, so bookworms tended to shy away from the format.

However, that narrative (pun…intended, maybe?) has shifted, and now the case is concretely this: Audiobooks totally count as a real way to ingest a written work. And those of us with massive TBRs are happily jumping on this bandwagon.

Just because I like to share my thoughts on these matters (and because I need a topic to post on, and since I’ve been sick recently, my brain is like scrambled eggs, and there isn’t a shell – ha! – of a new idea in there), as I’ve seen several blogs covering audiobooks in the last few weeks, I figured I’d throw in my two cents.

Pros, for me, of audiobooks:

They can be acquired through libraries! Since my book buying budget (for any format) is very tight, anything I can find via the public library for free is a valuable asset to my bookdragon ways.

Lots of genre selection. There are now tons of titles on audio, not just New York Times bestsellers who went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in Most Boring Literature (sorry, did I say that out loud?). So whether you like fantasy, mystery, contemporary romance, or biographies of famous dogs, you can find something to suit your fancy.

You can still get your chores done without sacrificing reading time. It’s 7:00 in the evening, and you have a terrible choice to make — give up the notion of conquering those dishes and waking up to a clean kitchen the next morning, or abandon finishing that book (that’s due at the library tomorrow). If you check out the audio version, you can do both at the same time!

Some stories hit you more when a practiced narrator is pronouncing the hard-to-read words. This is especially true for me with historical fiction and epic fantasy. Usually I duck out of reading such genres because I get too tripped up on not being able to sound out the nouns, and it’s really hard to not get frustrated when every other paragraph, there’s the name of that place or person again, and your inner voice goes from, “The horse threw its rider and galloped off, and the Duke watched helplessly as…A-r-c-h-samba?-er-let’s-just-call-him-Fred…plummeted into the gorge below.” I would so much rather have the lovely British voice inform me that the guy’s name simply sounds like Arksashy. Cool. Doesn’t throw me off the track of the plot.

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Unfortunately, some cons:

Not all narrators are created equal. Sad to say, but not every audiobook you click play on will have an engaging reader. And there’s really no way of knowing this until you listen. Kind of like not being sure whether you’ll like an author’s style or not, and needing to open the book to know one way or the other. So you may get some duds on audio, too.

If you can’t stand headphones or earbuds (that’s me), you can’t listen whenever, wherever. Since having anything over my ears — and certainly in my ears — for very long drives me batty, I’m limited on when and where I can turn on my audiobooks.

Same goes for owning limited sorts of devices. We don’t have a bunch of extra money around my house, so I currently don’t have access to a smartphone, tablet, portable CD player, etc. That also prevents me from listening as much as I would like.

No matter how much you wish it, some titles just won’t be on audio. I think specifically of indie authors and small press. I know many of them are branching out to include audio, as the process is becoming more affordable and accessible. And while that’s awesome, self-published me realistically won’t have the money for audio versions of my books until probably after we establish that colony on Mars. So I get it (and kind of mourn it).

The in-betweens of audiobooks:

There is still no replacement for the magic of your eyes following the words on the page and seeing the characters come to life in your own interpretation. I’m somewhat a visual learner, and there are times when listening alone just doesn’t give me the whole picture. Often physically reading gets me more immersed, and feeling more accurate in my mind’s eye depictions of the action and characters.

It feels easier to “cheat” with audio. If you’re reading along, and the story or style is meh, and you skip ahead a few pages, to see if your impression has changed, you still believe (and many would agree) that you’re giving the book a fair shot. However, with audio, simply hitting fast-forward or next…through the equivalent of 50 pages…is far too simple. (Maybe the moral dilemmia of that is a discussion for another day?!)

In the end, audiobooks definitely count as reading, and for some of us, they’ll become the preferred way to tackle our TBR, and that’s all okay. While for me, audio will never overtake the physical text, it is still a format that brings alive storytelling, keeps you informed, and introduces you to new, cool stuff. So, if you haven’t tried this already, I do recommend it!

Do you listen to audiobooks? Why or why not? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

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books, reading

Is There Such a Breed as the Persnickety Bookdragon?

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I am most definitely the above described creature. And I absolutely appreciate the generational value of literature, and want to see the world full of children who enjoy reading, and if you roll out a list of “100 books everyone should read,” there is a very good chance I will personally have read at least some of them. Many, depending on the genres or topics.

But here’s where the nitpickiness of my reading habits begin to show: Depending on the genres or topics. A few years ago, I’d reached the point of being comfortable with my specific interests, and not quite caring if those didn’t match up with the hobbies of those around me. I didn’t feel the need to apologize for being a geek and primarily ingesting fantasy, science fiction, fairytale retellings, alternate history, magical realism, and all of this in YA and even juvenile publications.

However, eventually my rationale started to feel hollow. I was running out of new authors to try — especially since I’d already rejected many of the ones I’d discovered since taking up blogging — and starting to wonder if I was…well, just too particular a reader.

Since joining two book clubs through my local library, I have realized that I am A) indeed quite persnickety when it comes to what I want to read, and B) for reasons I can’t really explain, it does bother me.

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Here’s a list of my bookdragon sins:

  • Not finishing books
  • Skimming scenes or entire chapters that weren’t catching my fancy
  • Giving up on a series halfway through if it took a turn that irked me
  • Not trying something else by an author whose work was so-so for me
  • Dismissing entire genres after only one read, or even none at all
  • Imposing a book buying ban on my whole family
  • Not joining a subscription box the second I learned about them
  • Refusing to give new releases a chance just because they’re compared to titles/series I didn’t like

There was a time when I’d defend all of these moves. These days…not so much.

The fear of missing out is becoming quite real right now. I’m beginning to understand why book bloggers speak of adding every single new title they hear of to their TBR purely for the sake of not feeling out of the loop.

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Or, let’s put a positive spin on this. What are some good points to being a persnickety bookdragon? Well, you save money, you save time, and you save space. You don’t have to worry about wasting hard-earned cash on titles you always knew, deep down, you wouldn’t like; you don’t have to find places to put 473 books; you can devote more of your free moments to sunbathing in your yard and languorously petting the dog.

Please no one tell me this theory doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

The downsides of this are not being included in as many online discussions, not getting references many of your friends do, and wondering what fictional glory you may be missing by not having read this or that. And none of this is fun. Not when you’re a bookdragon, and consuming a variety of literature and flailing over it is part of your very reason for existing.

So, I think it is time to loosen my tightened criteria, just a little. I want to have more of a hoard to proudly guard. I want to increase the hoard my children are nicely building. I want them to start finding bookdragon friends to flail with.

If this is most of my legacy, I’ll be okay with that.

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